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by Greg on October 16, 2011

Dear Telling Dad,

My 4 year old wants to know why “flashlight” begins with an “F”. I’m at a loss….please help me out!

Thanks (in anticipation of a mind-blowing answer),



A: Swathi, when dealing with questions from young children it’s critical that you at least appear to know everything. Giving the impression that you don’t know something will only be perceived as a sign of weakness, and children are masters at sensing and exploiting vulnerabilities.

Unfortunately, because you were at a loss for an answer, it may already be too late for you. Your weakness has been exposed, and soon, your sanity will be plundered. Had your son been younger, you may have been able to get away with it, but that window closed when he turned zygote.

Now that he’s seen your once-impenetrable wall crack, he’s going to keep probing for other vulnerabilities with an eternal barrage of “why is this” and “why is that” and “why, why, why.” No matter your answer, the “why’s” will keep coming. Over and over and over again until your brain, fatigued from the endless interrogation, is driven to respond with, “I don’t know.”

And with this, another crack will form.

As a parent, there are only three defensive stances you can take when faced with a question you can’t answer.

The first, which doesn’t really apply to the question you were asked, is “magic.” Kids love its mystique and their immaturity makes magic a perfectly plausible response to baffling inquiries.

I used the “magic” escape all the time when my kids were younger because they made it blatantly obvious that I knew next to nothing on a regular basis. Without magic, I would have been picked clean by scavenging kids a long time ago.

It works a little something like this:

“Daddy? Why is the sky blue?”


“Daddy? How do birds stay in the air if they don’t flap their wings?”


“Daddy? Why is water wet?”


See how easy that is? With only one word you’ve completely satisfied his or her curiosity and prevented the threat of another “why” inquisition thanks in part to their unrefined belief systems.

The second strategy is to deliver what I refer to as a parental filibuster. Basically, you provide such a long-winded convoluted response that your child either A) forgets what he or she even asked in the first place; or B) loses total interest in the question for fear of another confusing diatribe. Either way, you look brilliant and you protect your reputation in the process.

If faced with your flashlight dilemma, I might have offered up the following verbal purge, which is a cunning blend of fact and fiction:

“Well, son, to understand why Flashlight starts with ‘F’ you first need to understand the etymology behind the word. In this case, ‘flashlight’ is comprised of two words…’flash’ and ‘light.’ The ‘Light’ part is obvious because you know what a light does, right? Ok, so obviously that word needs to start with an “L.” We don’t even need to visit that one.

The word ‘flash,’ however, is different because the ‘fff’ sound, as in ‘fffflash,’ could either be from an ‘F’ or a ‘Ph.’ Can you hear how they both sound the same? That’s called a phoneme, a word that ironically starts with a phoneme itself.

I explain all this because I can only assume that you’re asking why Flashlight starts with an ‘F’ and not a ‘Ph.’ For that answer, we need to look no further than the very origins of our alphabet.

It’s well known that the Greeks were pretty much responsible for our alphabet. But, there was no ‘F’ sound in Greek, just a softer ‘p’ sound. This is why Ancient Greece was so civil…there were no ‘F’ words. Even calling someone a mother pucker just meant they like to show affection to their mom. Who’d get riled up over that, right?

So anyhow, when Ancient Roman grammartarians translated Greek into Latin, they spelled the ‘F’ sound as ‘Ph’ to help distinguish it from the regular Greek ‘p’, because there wasn’t even an original ‘F’ sound at all! So, older F-words were started with ‘Ph’ and newer post-interpretation F-words were started with ‘F’.

Armed with this information we can safely assume that if an F-sounding word starts with ‘Ph’ then it existed in Ancient Roman times. But if an F-sounding word starts with ‘F’ then it came about a long, long time afterwards.

Need proof? Consider this. Because the phone was invented in Ancient Rome around 6 B.C. by Alexanderous the Bellious, it was given the traditional ‘Ph’ spelling, as evidenced by the word, ‘Phone.’ The same thing happened with Photograph, Phonograph, and Pharmacy, which all first appeared in the Stone Age.

But the Flashlight didn’t make its appearance in the English language until it was invented around 1902. As such, with no more Ancient Romans around to interpret its spelling, it was given the modern ‘F’ as its starting letter, thus the word, ‘Flashlight.’ The same spelling situation exists with Fire, Fish, and Feet, which are all modern-day inventions.

So, long story short, Flashlight starts with ‘F’ because it would’ve had to have been invented before Ancient Rome even existed for it to be interpreted and spelled as ‘Phlashlight.’ Considering batteries didn’t hit the scene until a few years after the Roman Empire collapsed, this would have been impossible.

Hey! Are you still awake?”

Feel free to tweak the above to suit both your knowledge and your BS-ing capabilities. You really can’t go wrong when you’re making it up anyway.

And finally, the third defensive option happens to be the last bastion of defense for parents. It’s comprised of a simple phrase that’s as frustrating for children to hear as it is effective. So effective that it’s been used successfully on children for centuries. Even as far back as Biblical times. In fact, the very origins, laws, and foundations of today’s world religions are built upon it.

And that phrase, of course, is “Because I said so.”

It can be used on children of all ages, long after they’ve become wise to your “magic” tricks, and can be used in any number of situations. So common is its use that I’m sure even you have heard it at some point in your life.

Now I realize that I didn’t really give you an actual answer to the “Why F” question and that’s because I don’t have a clue. To you and me, Flashlight starts with F because, well, Flashlight starts with F! We don’t wonder why and we don’t really care. But to a child addicted to the pursuit of logic, this kind of explanation isn’t good enough.

Even if I knew the actual answer, I’m not sure I’d tell you. You’d benefit far more by knowing these three reputation-saving tactics. It’s kind of like that old adage, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

Twist and mold this cliche into a “Shuck It” life lesson and you get:

“Give Swathi the answer, and she’ll appear smart for six seconds. Teach her to dodge questions, and she’ll appear smart for a lifetime.”

Trust me, these tactics work like magic.


Because I said so.

Do you need some pearls of wisdom in your own life? Having trouble with your relationship? Parenting? Home repair? Need to split the atom?

Simply email shuckit@tellingdad.com to submit your question!

Click here for more Shuck It Pearls of Wisdom

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Thursday’s linky love! – Natalie Hartford
October 20, 2011 at 11:10 am


Nicole October 16, 2011 at 3:01 am

Brilliant! We are fabulously awesome at bs’ing our kids. Poor things. One of these days they’ll parrot us at school and we’ll be exposed. You should hear our Santa explanations. Well done, sir.

Karyn October 16, 2011 at 4:17 am

I love it, though I too stared to get a little glazed-eyed over the long and detailed explanation.
I have one more I use when I’m completely flummoxed that seems to work equally well; “Well, why don’t you tell me why you think it might be the case?”
Then when comes up with his childlike semi-plausible answer I say; “exactly, see? You’re smarter than you think you are!”

Its really a win-win. I lose no credibility, and he leaves the conversation thinking he’s a closet genius.

Telling Dad October 16, 2011 at 7:58 am

That’s actually even more genius. Use your foe against himself. As an ever bigger bonus, you get to hear an adorable story as their minds work. Their version is probably no less accurate than yours so I think you’ve cracked a 4th defensive strategy. Well done.

Karyn October 16, 2011 at 8:05 am

Well, you know, its a dog-eat-dog world with children. It eat or be eaten, and I prefer to eat. 😉

MiKovach October 16, 2011 at 6:53 am

My husband employs the second tactic on everybody…3 year olds…our 7 year old…our 7 year olds friends…his own friends…his boss…his bosses boss.
I stopped asking.
I request ” Short version, please?”
I tend to employ the 1st and 3rd strategy quite a bit.

meg October 16, 2011 at 7:15 am

zzzz.. oh, um.. yes, thank you for the lengthy roman explaination. Somehow, I don’t think I’m that good at bs’ing ANYONE, but my hubby on the other hand.. he contains enough worthless knowledge, he could totally pull that off..lol. I think I’d be sticking with #1 or #3, or #4 (Karyn’s answer of well, what do YOU think? and make them think they are even smarter)

Carrie October 16, 2011 at 8:44 am

My sister goes with the, “Because I said so” script at this point.

My nieces are just turning 11 and 12, so it won’t be too much longer before they don’t give a rats behind what she (or any of us, for that matter) think anyway.

My sis says it’s pretty much an unending press conference at her house at times. Then she’ll pull that old “I’m sorry, there is no more time for questions. Thank you for coming.”

Andy Reese October 16, 2011 at 11:40 am

I believe she wanted to know why it doesn’t start with”gh” as in enough. Also, I think it is coincidently that phenome begins with a phenome, not ironic. It might be ironic if it didn’t.

MrsTellingDad October 16, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Greg says you are mean. 🙂

Sarah Tishko October 16, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Gotta love how feet, fish, and flashlights were invented after the phonograph and photographs. I feel like the Washington State education system did me a disservice. Ah well, that’s what college and blog reading is for, to find the truth.

Kassandra October 18, 2011 at 1:14 am

Suddenly I too am feeling cheated by my Washington State education. I was certain that it was Phonographs THEN Fish THEN Photographs. Not all the PH’s at once… 😉

LeeAnn October 16, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Very funny and imaginative post!

One of the kids once asked me “What happens when the wind comes from the middle?” I tried to explain that it doesn’t, but it just made her cry in frustration. After awhile, I said, “As your Dad; he’s an expert on wind.”
(which was true…..)

Thanks for the history lesson; LOVED it!

MrsTellingDad October 16, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Now the world knows why our children always ask me for the answer. And if they do ask you, it is always followed by, “Mom, is that true?”. Or like tonight’s conversation, “Dad, why can’t you be normal?”.

Karyn October 16, 2011 at 7:49 pm

My son turned to my husband a few weeks back, as he was explaining something to him and said;
“Daddy, you don’t know that, the only people that know everything are God and Mummy.”

I of course, interjected myself into the conversation with; “That’s right honey, you’re so clever!”

meg October 17, 2011 at 4:59 am

Now, where would the fun be in that?? They wouldn’t be able to enjoy a firetruck ride now & again if that were the case. Bright side kids, bright side!

Candace October 16, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Awesome. I’m in the process of writing a paper on “Calvin & Hobbes” and realized you’re his dad, too, lol…

My son is 7 now, and “because I said so is the only one of your 3 that works anymore. Sigh…

Apple October 16, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Ah, I remember the days when these answers worked. I miss them. I’d also use “Why don’t you look that up and then report back what you learned?” This was genius because he would totally lose interest and wouldn’t ask another question for quite some time. Which, of course, afforded me the time to research the answer because I have OCD and not knowing would give me a tic!

Karyn’s #4 would have served me well!

Nikki October 17, 2011 at 5:09 am

“google it”

Cris October 17, 2011 at 7:24 am

too funny, my dad used the long winded in-depth answer method to those questions when we were growing up, and we would all drop into a coma.

Michelle October 17, 2011 at 7:31 am

Another option, “Because it was born that way.”

Grammy@gram-cracker.com October 17, 2011 at 7:52 am

Ok, I need a little clarification….when you use the “magic” answer and they fire back with the inevitable “Why?” How do you respond?? Is that when “because I said so” comes into play??

My kids are in their late 20’s so they clearly never ask me anything anymore but my new Granddaughter will be under the illusion that Grammy knows stuff so I’m thinking of going with “Go ask Poppa” ….

Telling Dad October 17, 2011 at 9:05 am

When you tell them it’s “magic,” there is no threat of “Why” because you simply explain that a good magician never reveals his tricks. Besides, magic warrants no explanation and most kids know this.

Alison October 17, 2011 at 9:10 am

YES! I’m so awesome. I’ve already been saying Magic for everything. Hunter has been just saying Why Why Why Why Why for no reason. My husband actually told him “Z” cause it comes after Y. Hahhaha.

Love this post!

Audra October 17, 2011 at 10:38 am

I always say give some off the wall response. Like the other day…..

“Mom, why does the microwave beep like that?”
“Um, because…… kittens wear underpants?”
They look at me with tilted head, and say, “nooooooo….. I think its so you know when your food is done.”
Returned with, “Gosh, you’re probably right! You are so smart!”

I like to think it allows them to use their little brains logically and builds their self confidence when I shower them with love and affection because they’re smarter than mommy 😀

MsKatrina October 17, 2011 at 10:42 am

I use a combination of long winded answer and when that fails, follow up with a “you gots the googles, go look it up!”.

It becomes funny when the kids get older and they learn to turn your tricks on you. Ever heard the long winded version of why they just didn’t have time to clean their room….

Josanne October 17, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Oh no…I think I’m in trouble. My kids are past that stage, but I’m NOT past the stage that is listed in your second suggestion. It’s usually ME who forgets where I started with the whole conversation! =/
I used to say, ask my mom a simple question, and she’ll give you a two paragraph answer. And I’m reminded of the saying,

Mirror, mirror
On the wall
I have become
My mother after all!

Another great post-always enjoy visiting your blog!

Melinda October 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I just use magic. A fourth could be call yourself and take an “important call”. They will get bored and walk away.

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